As the Elon University volleyball team gets set to start play in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), both coaches and players have bought in on a common theme. The Phoenix, which finished 1-15 in conference play last season, has confidence as it prepares.
“We know what we’re getting into,” said head coach Mary Tendler. “We know the players better, and we’re starting to develop some rivalries.”
The Phoenix has a few surprises for its CAA opponents with new additions who have made an immediate impact on the court. Freshman defensive specialist Maddie Jaudon leads the team in digs (191) and service aces (8) and is third in assists (19). Michigan State University transfer junior outside hitter Ebony Scott is fourth on the team in kills (55), while freshman outside hitter Kam Terry is tied for fifth (45).
“In a sense, it makes the other teams aware of what’s going on,” said junior outside hitter Kayla Agae. “It’s not the people they knew were going to be on the court. We still have a lot more talent, a deeper bench.”
Many of the team’s leaders from last season will undoubtedly make their presence known during conference play. Senior outside hitter Megan Gravley has tallied 113 kills and eight service aces through 13 games, while sophomore outside hitter Sydney Busa has racked up 101 kills and six service aces. Sophomore hitter Sydel Curry continues to be an big asset for the Phoenix, with 329 of the team’s 466 assists.
“We want to be better, but we’re not looking at last year,” said Agae. “We have to keep moving forward, because we can’t change the past. It’s a clean slate with everyone.”
Elon’s lone win in conference play last season was an Oct. 31 five-set thriller hosting the College of William & Mary. In many other matches against CAA opponents, though, Elon struggled to generate offense. In its 15 losses, the Phoenix won multiple sets only twice – once on the road against Northeastern University and once at home against James Madison University. Elon was swept in half the CAA contests it played in, including three of the team’s last four matches of the season.
Elon has a full week of time off between its last preseason game against the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Sept. 16 and it’s first conference game against Northeastern University Sept. 25. Tendler believes the break will give the team a much-needed breather.
“It’s exciting to move forward with this team going into the CAA,” she said. “We have a lot of time between [matches] to get healthy and prepare for Northeastern and Hofstra.”
Towson University (13-1)
After starting the season with a loss to the University of Tennessee, Towson has won 13 consecutive matches. The Tigers lead the conference in a staggering number of categories, including hitting percentage, assists, kills and service aces. Redshirt junior middle blocker Candace Steadman leads the CAA in hitting percentage (.451) as the Tigers look to improve on last year’s 13-3 conference showing.
James Madison University (10-3)
The Dukes will ride a three-game winning streak into conference play. A consistent team, James Madison doesn’t rank lower than fourth in all major statistical categories thus far. Freshman outside hitter Bryn Recker leaders the conference in service aces (19) and junior outside hitter Janey Goodman tops the conference in points (156). The Dukes capped off the preseason with nonconference victories, including a 3-1 over Georgetown University.
University of North Carolina at Wilmington (9-3)
After winning its last three matches, the Seahawks are one of many CAA teams entering conference play on a winning streak. UNCW leads the CAA in digs and blocks, with freshman middle blocker Anna Moss tallying a CAA-leading 45 blocks. The Seahawks beat two big nonconference opponents this preseason — Clemson University (3-0) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (3-2) — but suffered losses to California State University, Sacramento (1-3) and Coastal Carolina University (1-3).
Hofstra University (9-6)
The reigning conference champions had a tough nonconference schedule, losing to the University of Maryland, the University of Notre Dame and Wake Forest University. The Pride’s big win of the non-conference season came in a sweep against the University of Georgia. Hofstra is second in the conference in kills, led by junior outside hitter Veronika Kostova, who leads the CAA (187). The Pride has struggled to dig effectively, ranking eighth in the conference.
College of Charleston (8-6)
The Cougars, who finished last year with the best record in CAA play (14-2), had a modest nonconference slate. College of Charleston is a young team, with just four returning upperclassmen and six freshmen, and comes into CAA play with some big wins against nonconference teams, including a 3-2 victory against the University of Alabama Sept. 5. The Cougars have played well at home this season (6-1) but struggled in neutral (2-3) and away (1-1) contests.
University of Delaware (8-5)
The Blue Hens finished the nonconference portion of their season with a four-game winning streak. Senior defensive specialist Ariel Shonk leads the CAA in digs (212) and senior outside hitter Katie Hillman is fourth in the conference in service aces (15). Despite Shonk’s performance, the Blue Hens struggle in digs, ranking seventh in the conference. Delaware has also had trouble blocking effectively, with numbers near the bottom of the conference. The teams looks to improve on last year’s 8-8 finish in the CAA.
College of William & Mary (6-7)
The Tribe is one of three CAA teams to enter conference play with a winning percentage under .500. William & Mary hopes to recover from a 3-13 finish in CAA play last year. The team has had a tough out-of-conference schedule, losing to the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and East Carolina University. The Tribe lead the CAA in opponent hitting percentage, holding opposing teams to hitting just .132 of shots this preseason.
Northeastern University (3-12)
The Huskies continue to suffer after a 2-14 season in CAA play last season. Northeastern is at the bottom of the conference rankings in most statistical categories, including assists, blocks and digs. The Huskies are led by sophomore outside hitter Brigitte Burcescu, who is sixth in the CAA in points (185.5), and junior setter Jamie Bredahl, who is ninth in assists (241). Northeastern has played particularly poorly on the road during nonconference play, with a 0-5 record outside of Boston.